First-years make their mark at Middlebury

The men’s tennis team saw a successful opening to its season with a win in its first tournament of the season held last weekend at Middlebury. The weekend offered a first taste of collegiate tennis for the team’s first-years, who made their first road trip, earned their first collegiate win and got a chance to see which other members of the team would step up.

The coaching staff devotes a large portion of the preseason to helping first-years acclimate to the new environment, which is competitive in a different way than in high school.

“The level here is totally different,” first-year Zach Shaff said. “Here, everyone that I train with I can really train with. They beat me, I beat them, anybody can beat anybody. It’s helping me a ton”.

Each class of first-years is challenged by the coaching staff to reach certain physical goals before showing up to Tufts, and coaches have been happy with the results they have seen so far.

“It’s more of a camaraderie [in college], these guys are all traveling and playing tournaments [in high school] and that’s all individual stuff,” assistant coach Christo Schultz said. “College tennis is a much bigger game, but it’s also team-focused. [The first-years] are absolutely on the right track, and I’m excited to see where they’ll go”.

That preparation seems to have paid off. Shaff reached the semifinals, losing in a tiebreaker third set to the eventual flight champion from Middlebury, while first-year Jason Scanlon made the finals of his flight, losing to Brandeis first-year David Aizenberg in two tightly contested sets.

The adjustment to college tennis is not just physical but mental as well.

“In both the quarters and the semis, I lost the first set and managed to come back and win the second,” Shaff said. “The old me, high school Zach, could have easily folded and just given up in that second set … [but now] I’m fighting.”

The team was excited about its play last weekend and is looking forward to the rest of the fall season. Moving forward, teamwork, improvement and consistency have been emphasized as tools for progress. Accordingly, Schultz has encouraged raising the average shot speed of the team rather than rewarding individual winners of team competitions, which often change.

The first-year class clearly passed its first test this weekend. Each first-year is looking to challenge for one of the three open singles spots that are available this spring, but if the group can raise the level of play during practices, their contributions will be all the more invaluable.

Outside of the first-year players, the weekend belonged to sophomore Ethan Chen. Schultz describes Chen as “140 pounds soaking wet” but his play was extraordinarily energetic. Chen dominantly marched through the tournament straight to the semifinals. He did not play a third set until he lost in a tiebreaker to the eventual flight B champion, top-seeded Timo van der Geest of Middlebury. Chen’s tenacity and grit on the court last weekend resonated with his teammates, who took pride in the way he played and are eager to see how his game continues to grow.

The team’s next tournament is the ITA Regional Championship on Sept. 30 at Williams College.